Schola Cantorum Reykjavík
Hörður Áskelsson (conductor)
Schola Cantorum Reykjavík
Hörður Áskelsson conductor
Björn Steinar Sólbergsson organ
Elísabet Waage harp
Ásgeir H. Steingrímsson trumpet
Steef van Oosterhout percussion
1. Rúra, rúra barni (2010)
2. Myrtuskógur (1993)
Níunda Stund (1993/2006)
4. Níunda Stund
6. Endurkoma (2012)
7. Sónhenda LXXVIII (2010)
8. Your Image (1986/2010)
9. Lofið Guð I hans helgidómi (1996/2012)
Total playing time
All tracks are world premiere recordings
(Photography: Stefan Hafliðason)
The choral works of Hafliði Hallgrímsson
Choral music represents a small but growing
part of Hafliði Hallgrímsson’s output. With
the exception of his Passía of 2000, these
works are all relatively small in scale and,
with the further exception of some folksong
arrangements, all of these shorter works
are represented on this disc. Many of them
were commissioned by their performers
here, the Schola Cantorum Reykjavík.
Hallgrímsson’s writing for choir is principally
harmonic. There is little in this collection that
is complex in terms of polyphony. When the
polyphony is richer, as in Endurkoma, for
example, it is for specific dramatic effect.
More often a single melody is closely
followed by a swirl of harmony in the same
way that a calligrapher’s pen gives depth
and life to a line through tiny changes in
pressure or angle. Hallgrímsson is led by
his ear and his instincts, honed over many
years of careful self-criticism. “Like a painter,”
he says, “you dip into the box and come up
with something that works, naturally, from
experience, from your instinct.” It is
essential for the chords to “bloom”.
Rúra, rúra barni: sleep, sleep now darling.
The disc begins with one of its simplest,
but most immediately affecting pieces, an
arrangement of a traditional lullaby from
the Faroe Islands. Hallgrímsson’s personal
maxim is never to use a text until it has
become an old friend. However, when
unexpectedly – “and I do not know why” –
he was sent the original lullaby by a Faroese
composer, he decided to arrange it as a
Christmas gift for Hörður Askelsson, the
conductor of the Schola Cantorum.
The subtle and occasionally eerie a capella
choral writing (reference to “hitting the wall” is
a traditional method for warding off evil spirits)
is bolstered by the addition of a trumpet soloist
playing gently curling ornaments. The text refers
to “Pappa blowing his big lur”, an Icelandic
and Scandinavian trumpet of the Bronze
Age, curved into a twisted S-shape. Although
its function has been lost to us, the lur is
a fabled instrument in northern Europe.
Its sound, however, like that of many ancient
trumpets from around the world, was
probably somewhat raucous. This quality
has not been retained by Hallgrímsson, whose
super-restrained writing adds warm but
melancholy echoes (father is away with his
horn, possibly hunting, maybe at war) and
a resonant, dreamlike space around the
Myrtuskógur is the first of several of these
pieces to have been written as a memorial to
someone close to Hallgrímsson. In this case
the dedicatee is his late sister. The music is a
setting of the poem Silva myrtea (‘The Fields
of Sorrow’) by the 4th-century Latin poet
Ausonius. The text’s mood of mournful
twilight wandering is established through
a gently striding harp. The harmony suspends
itself between open arpeggios and thick
chromaticism, the sweetness of each tonal
chord dissolving as swiftly it is tasted, like
sugar in hot tea. At the midpoint, with the
mention of running streams, the pace
quickens. But this is a temporary change –
the waters are not flowing, and the dim
light of twilight returns.
Although he is not an especially religious
man, Hallgrímsson has often turned to
Christian-inspired texts in his vocal music –
the most obvious example being his Passía.
Baldur Óskarsson (b 1932), one of the
authors set in that work, is an old friend of
the composer, and was the source for the
text for Níunda Stund, a meditation on
“the ninth hour”, or the hour of Christ’s
death on the Cross.
Hallgrímsson’s setting follows the three-part
structure of Óskarsson’s poem, which
focuses in turn on the descent to earth
of a prophetic angel; some of the physical
signs of the moment of Christ’s death, as
described in Matthew 27; and us today,
looking back to find meaning. The music
follows the imagery of the text closely:
a hushed cluster explodes into a fanfare
announcing the angel’s arrival; tense
chromaticism evokes the piercing beam of
light that strikes the gravestones and awakens
the dead, and the eldritch sight of “blood on
the moon”; a fragmented texture is our
modern-day uncertainty. Only at the end –
with the words “Let us hold hands” – do the
voices come together in some sort of
Hallgrímsson has set Michelangelo’s Sonnet
LXXVIII once before. On that occasion it
appeared in one of his highest profile works,
Ríma, for soprano and string orchestra, a
commission for the Lillehammer Winter
Olympics of 1994. This second take is more
modest, composed in memory of the
harpsichordist, Helga Ingólfsdóttir.
Michelangelo’s text is sombre enough, but to
avoid morbidity, Hallgrímsson has cut three
lines that dwell explicitly on death. By this
simple means he is able to substitute the
darkest drama of Michelangelo’s poem for a
quiet and resolute reflection. The remaining
text divides into three stanzas. The first and
third are set in the simplest hymn-like
homophony, and provide ample opportunity
to appreciate Hallgrímsson’s harmonic skill,
as the texture gently thickens and thins, the
tone turns sweet or sour. The melody of the
second stanza, in which the poetic voice
briefly turns to the first person singular,
is given to the sopranos alone, with the lower
voices providing a soft underbed. Each stanza
ends with a variation of the opening “O night”
refrain, and again there are slow shifts from
shade to light, like clouded moonlight.
Endurkoma (‘Return’) is another religiouslyinspired
text, this time an image of Christ’s
return at the end of the world. It was written
by the Icelandic poet Hannes Pétursson
(b. 1931), whose poetry Hallgrímsson also
set in Passía. Like several works on this disc,
it has been revised. In its original version it
was considerably larger and more dramatic,
and involved four double basses and
percussion. The revision has compressed,
shortened and refocused the score.
It has not lost its essential dramatic shape,
however – a movement in the text from
violent arrival (God forging his way to
earth at the speed of light) to grace and
gentleness (Him passing no judgment) that
is matched in the music. At the start the
music is characterised by a loud dynamic,
dazzling harmonies and syncopated rhythms.
Even the range of the singers (from low E
in the basses to top B in the sopranos) is
deployed to emphasise the sense of
apocalyptic ecstasy. No longer bound to a
communal spirit, solo voices or pairs of
voices repeatedly burst out of the texture.
Over the course of four minutes, however,
each of these dimensions is calmed until at
the very end an even, chorale-like serenity is
A final memorial piece comes in the form of
Your Image. This has a dual dedication, to
Einar Vigfússon, one of Hallgrímsson’s former
teachers, and Mary Miller, a blind music lover
who took many music students as lodgers in
her London home. Vigfússon was the first to
stay with her, and, when he moved to London
to study at the Royal Academy, it was natural
that Hallgrímsson should too. He describes
her today as “the closest I have known to
The music sets lines from two poems by
Salvatore Quasimodo (1901–1968): three
from his well-known Enemy of Death, and his
complete short poem Suddenly it is Evening.
The former take up the first of two short
movements. In the second both poems,
“like two little trees that intertwine”, says
the composer, are increasingly woven together.
The music throughout treads an honest path
between lament and anger, with agitated
outbursts that are soothed into a more gentle
As shown by its singable melody and resonant
harmonies, Hallgrímsson’s music has faith in
certain absolutes of beauty. But at the same
time it is aware of the fragile line on which
our existence stands. Everything in his music –
harmony, rhythm, mode – is ever-changing,
resisting the arrogance of certainty. This is
clearest in the final piece on this album,
composed for the “Sailors’ Sermon”, a service
held every May in Reykjavík to honour those
who are among the most respectful of natural
forces that they cannot conquer – North
The text combines a psalm translation by
the 16th-century German priest Burkard
Waldis with two short verses by Hallgrímur
Pétursson (1614–1674), taken from his
Passíusálmar (‘Passion Hymns’). A former
fisherman himself, Pétursson was an important
contributor to Lutheran hymnody and is one
of Iceland’s most beloved religious poets.
(The Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavík, Iceland’s
largest church and where this album was
recorded, was built in his honour.)
Hallgrímsson’s original setting was intended
only for a single performance in 1996. For
this recording he has revised the work,
elaborating it considerably into an almost
fantastical whirl of sound. In between
declamatory choral phrases, organ, trumpet
and harp spin out waves of ornamented
scales that ripple over each other. If this is
an evocation of the sea, it is beautiful and
awesome, yet also other-worldly and
unknowable. One can hear too an echo of
the distant lur in Rúra, rúra barni.
As an outsider, it is tempting to distill this
spirit of Hallgrímsson’s music into something
essentially Icelandic, something of the raw
land of fire and ice at the remotest,
northernmost corner of Europe. The
composer himself would probably resist
such a national characterisation.
And yet “Landscape probably influences us
more than we realise,” he admits. “In
Iceland we see a lot of dramatic landscape.
The interior of the country is bleak, disturbing
in a way. Nature is serious ... It has a quiet
© 2013 Tim Rutherford-Johnson
Tim Rutherford-Johnson is a freelance editor
and prolific writer on contemporary music.
He founded and maintains one of the first
internet blogs on contemporary classical
music, and among his publications is the sixth
edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music.
Scores of the works from this recording can
be obtained from the Icelandic Music
Information Centre (www.mic.is).
Schola Cantorum Reykjavík
(Photography: Rut Ingólfsdóttir)
Texts & translations
(Excluding original texts in copyright)
Níunda Stund (continued)
All English translations by Sigurður Ingólfsson
1. Rúra, rúra barni (Sleep, sleep now darling)
Rúra, rúra barni
Krýtin steður í jarni.
Mammam situr og treskir korn
Pápin blæsur í lúðurhorn
Systirin seymar gullið uppá barnið
Vil ikki barnið tiga
Tak um legg slá í vegg,
So skal barnið tiga
Sleep now darling, sleep,
All evil is held at bay,
Mother sits to grind the corn,
father blows his lur
sister is sowing gold on your dress
hush little darling hush now
take a leg, hit the wall.
Then the child will sleep.
Faeroese folk song
Errantes silva in magna et sub luce maligna
inter harundinesque comas gravidumque papaver
et tacitos sine labe lacus, sine murmure rivos,
quorum per ripas nebuloso lumine marcent
fleti, olim regum et puerorum nomina, flores.
Wandering through a great forest at twilight,
between reeds rich with poppies
a spotlessly silent lake, barely makes a sound.
The flowers on the banks as a light swathed in mist
the lily droops her head having borne the
names of princes and kings.
Ausonius (c. 310 – c. 394)
Níunda Stund (Ninth Hour)
3. Engill (Angel)
He gathered the clouds and
lit the rainbow over his head,
held forth the book, stepped,
feet burning onto the earth – onto the ocean.
Within the darkness I heard the thunders talking.
4. Níunda Stund (Ninth Hour)
A piercing beam of light
through the palm
struck the burial mounds, opened the graves.
They looked up
and saw blood on the moon.
5. Nótt (Night)
It is still written on the tablets.
Where do we go
Seer, you who dwell upon the predictions
within fallen walls.
Silent houses and
the frame – a gleaming quadrant.
World of light, let us hold hands.
And the knot of time will never be undone,
Baldur Óskarsson (b. 1932)
6. Endurkoma (Return)
With the sound of trumpets
I learned that he would come
- on the speed of light.
in the fullness of time.
Forging his way
a blue wall through the clouds
and from the highest heavens
down to the ocean and the land
he will be seen
as white as lighting.
Will he arrive like this
Or will he just come like the ray
who now ascends the mountain
on the golden orange evening cloud
- a staff of light touching
the earth in silence and grace.
passing no judgement
on the living or the dead
Hannes Pétursson (b. 1931)
7. Sónhenda LXXVIII
Oh night, how sweet your darkest moment
Who metes out peace at the end of every day.
If men have sight and sense they will adore you
And bow to you in their uncowed spirit .
With you we throw away all fear and frailty
Drowning in the silent web of darkness,
Embraced by dreams till the heavens open
You carry me from earth up towards my hopes.
Absorbed in darkest shadow wrought in silence
And blithely dries our tears and makes us stronger
And frees the righteous ones from anger and sorrows.
Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)
Icelandic version: Þorsteinn Gylfason (1942-2005)
8. Your Image
Salvatore Quasimodo (1901-1968)
English version by Jack Bevan (b. 1920)
9. Lofið Guð I hans helgidómi
(Praise the Lord in his hallowed house)
Lofið guð í hans helgi dóm
Kristnir menn á jörðu
Segi lof, þökk með sinum róm
Svo orð hans viðfræg yrðu.
Þau um lönd öll hljómi snjöll
Hans makt og heidri lysi
Hátign vors guðs þeir prísi.
Praise the Lord in his hallowed house
All Christians here on earth
Sing his praise and your gratitude
To give fame to his every word
The words in every land
The words resounding with greatness
Showing his grace and wisdom
The highness of the Lord abounding
Gísli Jónsson (c. 1515 - 1587)
Þú gafst mér akurinn þinn
Þér gef ég aftur minn
Ást þina á ég ríka
Eigðu mitt hjarta líka
Lofið Guð (continued)
Ég gefi og allan pér
Á medan ég tóri hér
Ávöxtinn yðju minnar
Í garði kristinnar þinnar.
You gave me your field
To you I give mine back.
Of your love I have aplenty
so please accept my heart.
I would give you everything
while I‘m alive, your praise to sing
from the road my religion yields
to the roots of my Christian fields
Séra Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614-1674)
Schola Cantorum Reykjavík
Elfa Martét Ingvadóttir*
Guðrún Edda Gunnarsdóttir*
Jóhanna Ósk Valsdóttir
Also singing in Rura, rura barni & Sónhenda:
Sólveig Samúelsdóttir* (alto), Örn Arnarson (tenor) and Matti Kallio (bass).
Lára Bryndís Eggertsdóttir
Þórunn Vala Valdimarsdóttir.
Guðrún Edda Gunnarsdóttir,
Jóhanna Ósk Valsdóttir,
*Octet in Níunda stund
Helgi Steinar Helgason*
Skarpéðinn Þór Hjartarson*
Hreiðar Ingi Þorsteinsson
Guðmundur Vignir Karlsson
Hjálmar P. Pétursson
Schola Cantorum Reykjavík
The Schola Cantorum Reykjavík was founded
by the conductor and cantor at Reykjavík’s
Hallgrímskirkja, Hördur Áskelsson, in 1996.
With a constantly growing reputation
both at home and abroad the choir regularly
performs a wide repertoire, ranging from
Renaissance through to contemporary music,
and regularly appears in the Festival of Sacred
Arts at the Hallgrímskirkja.
Internationally the Schola Cantorum has
performed in Norway, Finland, Germany,
Italy, Spain, Japan and in France, where
the choir won top prize in the prestigious
Picardy International Choir Competition
A year later the Schola Cantorum made its
debut recording, Principium, an album of
Renaissance works and two years later they
recorded a disc of contemporary Icelandic
music, Audi Creator Coeli.
In their most recent release, Foldarskart
(Earths bright gems), Schola Cantorum sings
many of Iceland´s most beloved songs,
including arrangement of old folk songs.
Schola Cantorum has also participated in
recordings of choral orchestral works by
the Icelandic composer Jón Leifs (1899−1968)
with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra,
(issued on the Swedish label, BIS) as well as
recording and performing with artists as
Björk, Sigur Rós and the Swedish experimental
band Wildbirds & Peacedrums.
The Schola was appointed the City of Reykjavík
Official Music Group in 2006 and was also
nominated for the 2007 Nordic Music Prize.
More titles from Resonus Classics
This Christmas Night: Contemporary Carols
Including ‘Joseph and the Angel’ by Hafliði Hallgrímsson
The Choir of Worcester College, Oxford
Stephen Farr (conductor and organ)
‘Stephen Farr directs delectably sensitive performances,
and the sound is immaculate’
BBC Music Magazine, Christmas Choice 2012
In The Dark: Choral Works
Scott Inglis-Kidger (conductor)
‘This is a hugely impressive debut from the Platinum Consort
[...] whose gloriously clean and focused sound is perfectly
captured in this meticulously recorded sound’
© 2013 Resonus Limited
è2013 Resonus Limited
Recorded in the Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavík, Iceland during
February 2008 (Myrtuskógur), February 2011 and March 2012.
Producer, & Engineer: Sveinn Kjartansson
Executive Producer: Adam Binks
Recorded at 24-bit / 96kHz resolution
Cover painting: Hafliði Hallgrímsson
With thanks to the Reykjavík Cultural Fund; The Ministry of Education, Science
and Culture of Iceland; the Friends of Hallgrímskirkja Arts Society and Sigurður Ingólfsson
for their assistance in the making of this recording.
DDD – MCPS
RESONUS LIMITED – LONDON – UK